Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Years ago, well before I began this blog, I read many of John Grisham’s books and loved them. Then, somehow, he went off my radar, but when I saw Gray Mountain on display in the library I remembered how much I used to enjoy his books and borrowed it.

Gray Mountain


I don’t think he has changed much – this book is just as much a campaign against injustice and the misuse of power, about the good little guys against the big bad guys as his earlier books are. In this case it’s the big coal companies that come under the microscope, companies that are  ruining the environment by strip-mining in the Appalachian mountains. I was amazed to read the details – clear-felling the forests, scalping the earth and then blasting away the mountain tops to get at the coal. All the trees, topsoil and rocks are then dumped into the valleys, wiping out the vegetation, wildlife and streams. Gray Mountain is one of the mountains destroyed in this way.

But this is running ahead in the book. It begins in 2008 when Samantha Kofer has lost her job as a highly paid third-year associate with New York’s largest law firm following the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers bank. One of the options open to her is to work for free for twelve months as an intern at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, Virginia, run by Mattie Wyatt.  After that there is the possibility that she could get her old job back.

Up until then Samantha had only worked in corporate law and had never been in a courtroom, but she soon became immersed in a variety of  cases, including meths dealers and people suffering from black lung disease.

Gray Mountain is owned by Mattie’s nephew, Donovan Gray, also a lawyer, who is taking on cases against the Big Coal companies.  One of the cases involves the Tate family, two little boys who were killed when a boulder from the rock clearance crashed into the trailer where they were sleeping.  Although Samantha is horrified by the situation and wants to help Donovan and his brother Jeff in their search for justice, she feels reluctant to get involved as Donovan’s  methods are sometimes not strictly legal – and she doesn’t feel she belongs in Brady. And there is still the opportunity for her to work in New York, when a former colleague offers her a job.

But she gets emotionally involved with the people and their problems and begins to like litigation:

This was the rush, the high, the narcotic that pushed trial lawyers to the brink. This was the thrill that Donovan sought when he refused to settle for cash on the table. This was the overdose of testosterone that inspired men like her father to dash around the world chasing cases. (page 197)

She has to decide whether to stay with the Clinic or take the job in New York, and she loves the city life. It’s not an easy decision, and it is not revealed until right at the very end of the book.

Although Gray Mountain doesn’t quite match up to my memories of Grisham’s earlier books, I still enjoyed it. At first I thought he was introducing too much detail about the coal companies’ mining practices, but I soon realised how essential it is to understanding the issues. At times it’s like reading a series of short stories, but the main theme is well maintained. I liked the view of the small town community, the mountain scenery, the legal cases large and small and the tension created by the danger of opposing the big coal companies.

Reading Challenge: Color Coded Reading Challenge, with the word ‘Gray’ in the title and the cover being mainly grey in colour it qualifies for the category a book with ‘Black’or any shade of black in the title/on the cover.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: B is for The Brethren

crime_fiction_alphabetKerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is running a weekly meme: The Alphabet in Crime Fiction. Each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.

Kerrie explains that your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book’s title, the first letter of an author’s first name, or the first letter of the author’s surname.

So you see you have lots of choice. You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow.

This week’s letter is B and the book I’ve chosen to write about is The Brethren by John Grisham. I first read this several years ago when I was having a Grisham binge, reading every book by him that I could find. I read them so quickly and then promptly forgot about them.

This one sticks in my mind a bit more than some of the others, mainly because of its title. There are two strands to the story. The first concerns the Brethren – three judges imprisoned in Trumble a minimum security federal prison. They meet every week in the law library with the prison’s approval to hear cases and settle disputes between the other prisoners, and also, but not with approval, they’re running a gay-extortion scheme raking in hundreds of  thousands of dollars. The money is then smuggled out to their attorney and deposited in their secret offshore bank account.

Then there is Aaron Lake, a congressman talked into running for President by Teddy Maynard of the CIA.  Lake is handsome, articulate and smart, with no bad habits, clean as a whistle with a pretty dull private life since he’d become a widower: a solid candidate, very electable. But then, of course the two plots link up.

I haven’t re-read the book, but my memory of it is, like all the other Grisham books that I’ve read, that it is fast-paced, packed with legal detail, complicated and for me at least totally absorbing. I may even read it again.